How to Coach the Participation Trophy Generation


Question: I’m a first year coach and am getting completely frustrated with the attitudes I get from my players. They work hard in practice. In games they nod and say, ” Ok coach, we got it.” Then they go and do something completely different. They concede games before they start and if it’s close they give up. After a loss, its as if they won. You train a lot of kids and have for years. Do you have any advice?

Answer: Your generation was intent on making every game a fight. Win or lose, the other team was going to have to earn a win. In the event you did lose, it was the end of the world for a couple of hours as far as you were concerned. Losing was NOT OK.

The current generation has been raised sweating through a video game that doesn’t require physical exertion, or the pain and exhaustion of completely expending every ounce of energy in the effort. Mom and dad have sheltered them from having to cope with loss. Everyone gets a trophy and no one keeps score so those that aren’t excelling don’t feel bad about not being the best. That, within itself has impeded the growth of the climb to be the best.

While not everyone can start out being the best, quite often, it’s not the most gifted or talented that becomes the best. It’s the work behind the scenes after practice when no one is watching that completes the skills and makes the mindset of a champion. Michael Jordan was always talented but it was the additional work he did on his own that made him the best basketball player on the planet. His attitude was that he could not be beaten and losing wasn’t an option.

How do you build a team that refuses to quit or refuses to go down without a fight? As a coach you can take a military approach and give players an antagonist entity to to unite against, meaning be hard on them as a coach. The problem with that is these kids and their parents might be offended with your team building techniques and complain loud and long to the school officials or just take their kids off the team. You can use the tapes of their games to point out lackluster hustle and try to show them how they could have performed better through hustle and a winning mentality.

If you can change the mentality of just one player then you can create a winning locker room and a winning team in competition. Evaluate your team and determine who is the closest to seeing that life isn’t all sunshine and rainbows and is willing to learn how to dig deep inside themselves to finish and finish strong. It may require teaching that one a new drill to improve their game and believing in that kid more than he believes in himself until that spark ignites inside. Once you get that one kid believing in himself and the team, then the drive within that one can carry to others on the team one at a time. It’s a challenge to help these kids see the potential in themselves but it is worth the effort.

God bless and keep training,